Over the last 70 years, the global population has gotten older.
Since 1950, the worldwide median age has gone from 25 years to 33 years.
Yet, despite an overall increase globally, not all regions have aged at the same rate.
For example, Australia has not aged in line with many other parts of the world, in part because of the large number of younger immigrants coming to our country.
So let’s look at why some regions skew older than others.
Factors that Affect a Region’s Median Age
Before diving into the numbers, it’s important to understand the key factors that influence a region’s median age:
- Fertility Rate
The average number of children that women give birth to in their reproductive years. The higher the fertility rate, the younger a population skews. Since 1950, the global fertility rate has dropped by 50%.
- Mortality Rate
The number of deaths in a particular region, usually associated with a certain demographic or period in time. For example, global child mortality (children who have died under five years of age) has been on the decline, which has contributed to an increase in the average life expectancy across the globe.
International migration may lower a region’s population since migrants are usually younger or working age. In 2019, there were 272 million migrants globally.
The Change in Median Age
As mentioned, not all regions are created equal. Here’s how much the median age has changed in each region since 1950:
Regions that have seen the most growth and generally skew older are Latin America, followed by Europe and Asia.
Interestingly, Asia’s notable increase is largely influenced by Japan, which has the oldest population on the planet.
The country has seen a significant increase in median age since 1950—it’s gone from 22 to 48 years in 2020.
This can be explained by its considerably low fertility rate, which is 1.4 births per woman—that’s less than half the global average.
But why is Japan’s fertility rate so low?
There are more women in the workforce than ever before, and they are too busy to take on the burden of running a household.
Yet, while women are more prosperous than ever, the workforce in general has taken a hit.
Japan’s recession in the early 1990s led to an increase in temporary jobs, which has had lasting effects on the region’s workforce—in 2019, about 1 in 5 men were working contract jobs with little stability or job growth.
In contrast to Asia’s growth, Africa has seen the lowest increase in median age.
The region’s population skews young, with over 60% of its population under the age of 25.
Africa’s young population can be explained by its high birth rate of 4.4 births per woman.
It also has a relatively low life expectancy, at 65 years for women and 61 years for men.
To put things into perspective, the average life expectancy across the globe is 75 years for women and 70 years for men.
Another trend worth noting is Oceania’s (Australia’s) relatively small growth.
It’s interesting because the region’s fertility rate is almost on par with the global average, at 2.4 births per woman, and the average life expectancy doesn’t differ much from the norm either.
The most likely reason for Oceania’s stagnant growth in median age is its high proportion of migrants.
In 2019, the country had 8.9 million international migrants, which is 21% of its overall population.
In contrast, migrants only make up 10% of North America’s population.
Unique Challenges for Every Region
Age composition has significant impacts on a region’s labor force, health services, and economic productivity.
Regions with a relatively high median age face several challenges such as shrinking workforce, higher taxes, and increasing healthcare costs. On the other end of the spectrum, regions with a younger population face increased demand for educational services and a lack of employment opportunities.
As our population worldwide continues to grow and age, it’s important to bring attention to issues that impact our global community.
World Population Day on July 11, 2020, was established by the UN to try and solve worldwide population issues.
“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the world’s blueprint for a better future for all on a healthy planet. On World Population Day, we recognize that this mission is closely interrelated with demographic trends including population growth, ageing, migration, and urbanisation.”
– UN Secretary-General António Guterres
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